In vote, resource-rich Greenland debates new global role

Sun Mar 10, 2013 11:14am EDT
 
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By Alistair Scrutton

NUUK (Reuters) - Kuupik Kleist's earliest memories are hunting whales with hand-thrown harpoons. Now, as Greenland's prime minister, he is feted by Chinese and European leaders as he opens up its untapped mineral resources.

A verdict on this country's transformation comes on Tuesday, when this island - a quarter the size of the United States and with only 57,000 mostly Inuit inhabitants - holds a general election.

There is only one polling station in the capital Nuuk, which has just two traffic lights and where hunting is still the most popular pastime. But the vote may pack a global punch.

After four years of Kleist - a quiet-spoken musician known as Greenland's Leonard Cohen for his gravelly voice - the vote is effectively a referendum on how far it embraces international mining companies, energy giants, and foreign workers.

At stake may be Greenland's growing geopolitical role as global warming and the thawing of sea ice open up new sea lanes, minerals and oil fields - drawing the interest of world powers from China to the United States.

"There is a growing nationalist backlash. It's not a nice thing to see," Kleist said, sitting in his ninth floor office overlooking the snow-capped hills surrounding Nuuk Bay.

"The fear of being overrun by foreigners is exaggerated," the 54-year-old said. "We are becoming a global player. We need to avoid ethnicity, nationalistic feelings."

With Greenland having self-rule from Denmark aside from defense and security, the vote has seen a split between Kleist and an opposition linked to traditional Greenlanders like fishermen and hunters who feel he has gone too far in welcoming foreign companies.   Continued...

 
Greenland's Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist looks out from his office in Nuuk, March 7, 2013. REUTERS/Alistair Scrutton